I am a week into 2021 and already I’ve digressed from my own inner dialog about plotting my course for the upcoming year. It’s quiet.
I set one personal goal each new year, and it is always the same. I resolve to stay focused on what is important to me and to not let obligations overwhelm my interests. I paint this in broad strokes so as to give myself the best chance to succeed, but to also cut myself some slack when I need to. For the most part, I am able to achieve this goal by protecting my work-life balance. However, this is an ongoing challenge because I am deficient in two skills that would make this much easier. Those are the ability to focus on one thing at a time, and organization. (I am perpetually disorganized.) I manage to overcome these deficits by being highly adaptable to change and by being able to get good traction when I need it. I will never overestimate the power of my own forward momentum and my ability to make quick changes in direction.
My inner dialog is a noisy place. It’s like a bustling coffee shop (pre-COVID, of course), where friends gather in the morning to compare their busy schedules before fleeing in all directions, all late for something. I am adept to a fault at taking on numerous projects, tasks, commitments, activities, interests, ideas, and even conversations at any given time, all layered on top of each other. “It” been known to teeter precariously if I layer on too much. (For the record, “it” has only toppled over once.) I am frequently accused of trying to do too much. Although I find such comments offensive, they are true. I am a project person. Anything left unfinished is unaccomplished until I finish it. I get great satisfaction in saying “It’s a wrap!” I like to be done with something so I can move on to something else. I love completion but can’t be bothered with results.
Unfortunately, what is most important to me is always at the bottom of this stack because it is my foundation. Each layer added on top of that foundation diminishes in importance but increases in priority. What is at the top is least important, and yet I need to clear it out of the way in order to get closer to what is most important, the personal-value stuff. Picture me with a laundry basket full of clean clothes (that need to be folded, of course), frantically throwing each article over my head while I dig down to the bottom in search of that one thing I want most. I once tried to turn the entire stack over and put what was most important on top, but a base of insignificance could not support it.
Despite everything that happened in 2020, I was able to accomplish the one personal goal that represented what was (and still is) most important to me. I managed to clear the stack all the way to the bottom so that I could do this. I had to give up some things up, I had to back-burner other things, I delegated, and I said “no” a lot. But I also accomplished a lot in 2020 just to be able to accomplish this. As a result, Lifeline to Marionette is alive and well on Amazon and Ingram Spark via bookshop.org and indiebound.org, which I have been promoting as an alternative to putting more revenue into the pockets of independent booksellers and less in Mr. Bezos’s. (See, I’ve digressed again.) I can say, “It’s a wrap!” Time to move on.
There is one problem. My inbox continues to populate with new emails from the numerous mailing lists I joined over the course of the last year in order to learn as much as I could about marketing myself as an indie author. At first, I pursued them all, then I merely perused them. Now I just delete them, knowing I have either read or listened to at least some version of everything that is “out there” about marketing the self-published book. I fully acknowledge there is a lot more I could be doing to further promote Lifeline to Marionette. I could post more and interact more. (Walk the fine line between time spent and time sucked.) I could spend more on digital marketing. I could continue to solicit for reviews. I could manipulate my keywords and phrases so as to influence the algorithms of search results. Lifeline to Marionette is doing ok on its own. Readers are finding it. But I know that if I worked (focused) harder at/on it, I could put some serious weight behind a post-launch marketing plan, execute it and move the needle. (That’s my traction talking.) But here’s the truth. I don’t want to. I would rather spend that time writing new books than marketing the ones I’ve finished. Lifeline to Marionette will just have to swim around in that vast ocean of new fiction on its own.
This was not a snap decision. I did not wake up on January 1 and declare my 2020 goal achieved and my psyche ready to move on. I have debated this with myself for the past three months. The big question I challenged myself with was, “Am I finished living with Lifeline to Marionette, or not?” Finally, the answer. Yes, I’m finished. Time to move on.
I arrived at this decision by conducting a test of my time. Everything I love to do is incredibly time consuming. I love to read. I have a long list of books I want to read. I also love to write, and I have a shorter list of books I would like to write. The problem is, I can only read one book at a time and I can only write one book at a time, and I cannot read and write at the same time. By this I don’t mean I cannot read other authors’ work while I am writing; I mean I cannot read and write simultaneously. Add to this my real job, my family commitments, and my horse interests, which are all very demanding of my time, and everything becomes a tradeoff. Everything. Fortunately, I love my job, my husband and my horses, and all three are interconnected. Unfortunately, reading and writing are entirely solitary endeavors. I knew a year ago that if I wanted to find more time to write, then I would have to give something else up. There simply are not enough hours in the day for everything I want to do.
With that, I decided to take a break from competing in endurance riding (long-distance, cross-country horse racing), which I have been doing for 31 years, in order to give myself more time to write. Riding had become the most time-consuming and repetitive activity in my life. I was starting to question my motive because my motivation was waning. As it turned out, I didn’t have to quit the sport because COVID did the quitting for me. I haven’t been to an endurance race in a year because of COVID, and I don’t see this changing in the immediate future. With no races to go to, I had no reason to put so much time into training, and with that, I suddenly had the time I wanted to devote to writing. By March, Lifeline to Marionette was in my editor’s hands and I was deeply engrossed in writing The Fifth Language. (For the record, I am still riding. In fact, I just got a new horse. However, I am doing so with a completely different attitude toward it that can best be described as a complete lack of competitive drive.)
COVID has forced the shutdown of part of the family business, which has allowed me to focus more intently on fewer aspects of it. Travel has been greatly diminished, so I’ve put that time back into the bank. I can only see a few months ahead into 2021, and I don’t see much in the way of change from the current conditions and circumstances. The end result of all this is that I am starting 2021 with a stack that is much shorter, more evenly distributed and more relevant than it has ever been. I don’t feel as frantic. The coffee shop is much quieter. I’m reading and writing a lot. My working draft of The Fifth Language is roughly 150,000 words and growing. (Lifeline to Marionette is 105,000 words). My goal for 2021 is to spend all the time I have banked to commit to writing to this one project. I plan to live and breathe The Fifth Language for a year, so that, a year from now, I will be asking myself the same question about this book: “Am I finished, or not?”